Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Film and Numbers

It’s been a week for big numbers. Twelve new films opened and most of them went un-reviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald. The only paper which meticulously lists and describes each film, no matter how modest the opening or the venue is the Daily Telegraph. It’s also the only paper which carries ads for the Greater Union cinemas including my local around the corner. I cant bring myself to buy the paper under any circumstances but, for at least giving the new films due deference, it’s clear the Tele beats the SMH hands down.

The other big number I noticed was on the credits on Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia. The opening titles list some fifteen people as Associate, Co-Executive, Executive or straight up Producers. The closing titles list four more who probably still want to know how come they missed out being listed at the start. One name stood out among them all. James B Harris got a solo credit as Executive Producer. There’s a name to conjure with. Harris first came to prominence in the fifties when he produced three of Stanley Kubrick’s best films The Killing, Paths of Glory and Lolita. He became a director himself, starting with the nuclear thriller The Bedford Incident. He made at least four other films himself, the last I can find listed (without going to IMDB) being in 1988. He’s now approaching eighty years of age but still seems to be a player. I heard at one time he was interested in producing an adaptation of one of Alan Furst’s wonderful wartime espionage novels but nothing seems to have come of that. Whatever, The Black Dahlia is, as most of the reviewers have said, a major disappointment. De Palma had a few burdens to carry into the project beyond the nineteen producers. For starters James Ellroy tells his stories in oblique ways that keep you off-centre. He often changes the viewpoint of the narrative from chapter to chapter and keeps you guessing as to what is occurring and what its relationship is to other things that happen. The script deals with this in a very muddy fashion. Scenes never seem to relate to each other. Finally it’s all resolved but you cant look back on the narrative very clearly. Then there is the abysmal casting of the far too young Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett. Johansson is supposed to be some mature, experienced Lana Turner type but still looks like a juvenile lead dressing up.

I think I’ll keep a record of all these Executive Producer driven films. I suspect that there will be a clearly diminishing correlation between numbers and quality.

Finally people seem to be dying in numbers. This week alone the estimable Ronald Bergan of the Guardian, who seems to have the market cornered on SMH obituaries, noted the deaths of Philippe Noiret, Claude Jade,Truffaut’s wonderful discovery as the lover and wife of the 'mature' Antoine Doinel, and the adorable Betty Comden. Comden thrilled me a few years ago when she and Adolph Green took part as narrators and occasional singers in a telecast of a concert version of On the Town conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. It, and she, and they, were fabulous. The show thrilled me more, I have to opine, than the Donen Kelly movie.

If you'd like to read the rest of the week's note about what's been overlooked on Australian TV, including Michell's The Mother, Johnnie To's Left Turn, Right Turn, Michael Powell's The Fireraisers and Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Sucides then email and I'll add you to the email alert list


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